Violence without accountability
The city of Hebron, situated in the occupied West Bank, is divided between area A and area C. Since the Oslo accords which divided the whole West Bank into area A, B and C., the Israeli military occupation should be in charge of all the territories in area C, area B should be shared responsibility and area A should be controlled by Palestinian authorities. However in reality Israeli army controls the whole occupied area. In area C, Palestinians can not obtain building permit, unlike settlers, who build more and more housing units against international law. In majority of cases big cities are in area A, where the settlements are not growing. With one exception – Hebron. There the Israeli right wing settlers and Palestinians share streets in every day close contact. At least the Palestinians who have decided to stay. In the intense area in the zone C, in Hebron known as zone H2, really means to exist is to resist.
One of the most problematic parts of the H2 zone is the Shuhada street. After a certain point, no Palestinians can go further. If they do, they can be detained. One would expect at least a sign informing visiting Palestinians about that fact that they will be detained if they go further. Local activists even asked for that sign many times, but unsuccessfully. Jewish settlers and tourists can go on as they please. Imagine walking there side by side with your Palestinian friend until so called “flying checkpoint“ after which she or he can not continue.
The Shuhada street was one of the busiest Market streets in Hebron, until 1994, when it was closed for the Palestinian population. The Israeli authorities had closed it down because of a massacre that happened that year. This massacre in the Ibrahimi mosque was where 29 praying Palestinians were killed by Jewish terrorist. Then the street had to be closed, so as all Palestinian owned shops, sometimes with the goods locked inside for “security reasons“. However nowadays one can find sign in the streets telling different story about why the shops are closed. It says it had to be done because of terrorist attacks that were committed six years after by Palestinians towards Israeli settlers.
In this atmosphere some Palestinian people still continue to live on Shuhada street. People go to work, children go to school very close to the line they can not cross, every day. As Ecumenical Accompainers we provide protective presence to children going to school in between military checkpoints, crowds of soldiers and right wing settlers.
Two types of law
I was visiting the city of Hebron for three days. During that time I witnessed settler violence towards Palestinians, I heard testimonies of Palestinians exposed to settler´s violence and I was harassed by settlers myself.
Everywhere on occupied Palestinian territories you can observe many soldiers. Their main purpose is to safeguard Israeli settlers at any cost, who expand their settlements, by buying or taking over Palestinian houses one by one or building new ones as mentioned before. There were many cases when Palestinian families went to celebrate someone´s wedding and when they came home, they found their house occupied by Israeli settlers. However expansion of settlements is not something I want to write about in this article. The purpose of this article is to write about the non-existent liability for crimes committed by settlers.
On the first day that I came, we interviewed family whose member, a ten year old boy, was hit by a car, driven by a settler a few weeks ago. Because of the accident he spent many days in hospital, his head was injured and he could not walk properly. The incident happened very close to a permanent military checkpoint which has many cameras. When the family asked for the footage, soldiers who were on duty refused to provide it. The mother of the 10 year old boy believes that the settler hit her son intentionally. It wasn´t the first time the family was exposed to settler violence. A few years ago settlers poisoned their water container. Luckily they saw them doing it and no one drank the water. Israeli ministry of health confirmed that the water was poisoned but no charges were enforced. In the occupied territories, two types of laws are applied to the people who live there. Israeli military law towards Palestinians and Israeli civil law towards settlers. According to the Military court watch orgaization in 100% cases the prosecutor sends Israeli citizens who live on the West Bank to the civil court. The soldiers can not intervene when settlers are committing crimes. The only thing that they can do is call the Israeli police. However due to the fact that their duty is to safeguard settlers and traditionally they tend to have good relationships with settlers, they hardly ever call them.
The next day we went to celebrate Jamila´s birthday. She lives really close to the line Palestinians can not cross. We brought her cake and we sang: ,,happy birthday“ to her. We stood in the street in front of her house. After a while, settlers started to gather around us. At first I though to myself: “This might be actually quite nice, maybe they just want to see what is going on.“ However that was not the case. After a few minutes, they started to take their cars and drive back and forth on the exact place where we were standing, stopping their cars and playing music out loud so we could not hear our music. By the way, Palestinians are not allowed to drive their cars in this area. And what what did the nearby soldiers do? After a few minutes they told us to leave, because we are causing troubles.
The position of power
The last experience I want to write about is the school run we did in the morning near the Cordoba school. Our duty in the school run is to accompany students, who go to school in between of checkpoints, settlers and soldiers. It was one of the days of Jewish holiday Sukkot, which means heavier military presence. My colleague and I were standing among approximately 20 soldiers, one elderly Palestinian man and every now and then a military car passed by. Students were walking into school in this kind of atmosphere. After a while Ofer Ohana, well – known settler for his harassement of Palestinians, internationals and even Israelis from peace initiatives, stopped his car and approached us. He started to film us and threatening us that he will take this footage and send it to his government so they can deport us from his country. We did not react in the way he was probably expecting, so he let us go after a while and started to harass the elderly Palestinian man sitting nearby. In the position of power he was leaning over him, laughing to his face, aware of the fact that there are twenty soldiers ready to protect him at any cost.
The huge amount of injustice Palestinians have to face every day especially in Hebron is another part of the effects that occupation causes. This kind of atmosphere leads to the result that many Palestinians leave the H2 area, because they just want to live in peace. One by one, they are leaving Shuhada streets and settlers are taking over.